October 17, 2011

Willkie litigators obtain victory for pro bono client wrongly accused of participating in an international drug trafficking conspiracy.

A team of Willkie lawyers recently persuaded the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York to dismiss federal criminal charges against pro bono client Mr. J., a citizen of Sierra Leone. Mr. J. was arrested in Liberia for his alleged participation in an international drug trafficking conspiracy and placed in federal custody 16 months ago. The Justice Department’s case appeared strong, backed by recorded meetings in which Mr. J. seemed to be discussing the conspiracy. Mr. J.’s defense – that he was simply playing a role in these meetings under the direction of the Liberian National Security Agency – was denied by the Liberian officials and disbelieved by U.S. prosecutors. He faced 20 years in jail if convicted.

Willkie’s investigation revealed facts about the Liberian National Security Agency officials that undermined the Justice Department’s confidence in what they were hearing from Liberia. Willkie lawyers learned that one Liberian official had been charged with murder in the United States and another had falsified critical reports regarding his interactions with Mr. J.

Immediately prior to the commencement of the trial, Willkie lawyers met with prosecutors to plead their client’s case, laying out the facts that they argued established his innocence. Only hours before a jury was to be impaneled, the United States Attorney moved to dismiss the charges and send Mr. J. home.

The case was handled by partner Michael Schachter and associates Daniel Burstein, Melissa Yang, Mili Desai and Jill Magnani and legal assistant Jennifer Weinstein.

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